leaves for compost?

BleekmanOctober 28, 2012

quick question for the smart composters: I have many maple and aspen trees in the backyard. May I simply rake up those leaves, spread them over the garden area, and cover it with a black tarp for the winter? Will they turn into compost soil? If that happens, will it help the existing soil or upset the soil balance (unlike our compost that goes to the curb, this would be solely tree leaves)? Thanks much!

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david52 Zone 6

They'll decompose and feed the soil - I don't think there's any reason to cover them with a tarp - if you rake/mow them up and stomp them down a bit, they stay in place pretty well, even with the wind.

I do this every year with all my leaves. They don't really decompose until next spring, but then they go pretty quickly

    Bookmark   October 28, 2012 at 7:23PM
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Skybird - z5, Denver, Colorado

Hi Bleekman,

Last year for the first time I tried something I call "direct composting," and I was absolutely delighted with the result! Digit (I think it was!) had mentioned composting stuff directly in the soil at some point around here, and that's why I decided to have a go at it--in addition to having way too many bags of leaves to dump on my fairly small compost pile! I don't have many leaves myself, just some cottonwood leaves from the neighbor's junk cottonwood trees, but I get all the leaves from my neighbor across the street, and last year is was thirty-some big bags--maple, linden, and some other things. I dumped the bags out one or two at a time, dug up a shovel full of soil, crammed as many leaves into the "hole" as I could, and put the soil back on top of the leaves. If you get the leaves under the soil at least somewhat, and especially if we get moisture or you hose it down to keep the soil at least somewhat moist, they do actually start to decompose even when it's cold out. AND, if you get them under the soil you'll get a LOT more Worm Action going on--especially if you pile more leaves on top of the area (or I put remaining bags of leaves on top of as much as I can) and that helps keep the soil warn enough for the worms to be doing their thing much of the winter.

I started out with heavy clay, and this "direct composting" has been, by far, the most effective thing I've done for my veggie garden yet! In the past when I composted stuff, including the leaves, on a pile first and then mixed it in it really didn't seem to make much difference! I still throw my kitchen scraps and my perennial clippings on The Pile, but from now on ALL of the leaves I'm able to score go directly into the soil.

Also, in terms of "messing something up," IMMEDIATELY (about a week) before I planted my tomatoes this year I still had a bunch of bags of leaves left so I went over as much of the area as I could again and buried as many as I could cram in a "shovel deep" and I had probably the best tomato year--and very definitely the best eggplant year, I've ever had, even in spite of the HOT temps this summer.

Maple leaves decompose very easily and quickly, but the cottonwood and aspen leaves will take a lot longer. I try to kind of mix them up a little bit so I don't get all of one kind in one area and so I'll have some that decompose pretty quickly and some that "last" longer all over the place.

I am WAY sold on this method, and whether you decide to let them lay on the surface over winter and turn them in in spring, or mix them in at least some right away, I'm quite sure you'll be happy with the result.


    Bookmark   October 28, 2012 at 9:40PM
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I have been doing this for at least 12 years as we have a lot of leaves and hard clay soil. The beds that had the most leaves dug into them are the ones that you can get a shovel in without having to stand on it. I also direct compost all my kitchen scraps on top of the beds and turn them in when adding leaves or planting or harvesting. My knees won't do heavy digging anymore. The (leaf mold) is very beneficial for the soil. If my hubby had his way we would burn them all as it would be easier. The smaller leaves we run over with a lawn mower and use them for mulch on the flower beds.

    Bookmark   October 28, 2012 at 11:42PM
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david52 Zone 6

As others have said, the key to this is moist soil so the worms can access the leaves. The leaves themselves will really help retain the moisture in the soil.

I covered all my vegetable beds with leaves/grass clippings with 6-8". I'm waiting until later this week when we get a 3 day "pond run" of irrigation water to really soak the soil for the winter. I had to use domestic water to soak my garlic bed, and by the time I run hoses out to the garden, the pressure is so low that it took most of the day.

    Bookmark   October 29, 2012 at 10:54AM
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